MSG has a bad name for itself. It was a popular additive in Asian foods for years until suddenly it was on the blacklist. Now, many restaurants and products proudly proclaim “No MSG added”—further smothering MSG’s name. But is the additive really as bad as we make it out to be?
First of all, what exactly is MSG?
MSG is an acronym for monosodium glutamate. According to the BBC, “Monosodium glutamate is the sodium salt of glutamic acid...MSG is the most stable salt formed from glutamic acid, and one the best delivers the sought after ‘umami’ taste.”
This “umami” taste is the reason that MSG was such a popular additive. “Umami” is the savory flavor that you get out of meat, mushrooms, and sundried tomatoes. Check out this article for more information about the taste “umami.”
Why is it on the blacklist?
Well, this isn’t quite so clear. MSG was used for years to flavor soup and other Asian dishes. In 1968, Dr. Ho Man Kwok sent a letter to the “New England Journal of Medicine” in which he considered possible causes of “Chinese restaurant syndrome.” He experienced numbness, weakness, and heart palpitations after eating at Chinese restaurants.
He contemplated the idea that the cause of the “Chinese restaurant syndrome” was MSG. Suddenly, this speculation seemed to go viral. There were cookbooks and articles left and write about how horrible MSG is for your health.
Well...is it bad?
After this flurry surrounding MSG, scientific studies were done. At first, it looked like MSG might have some impact. However, none of the studies proved that MSG was dangerous, as Dr. Kwok accused it to be.
After a commission by the FDA, studies showed that people might respond in a negative way to large doses of MSG. However, the doses that caused negative reactions were more than 5 times more than would be found in a regular diet. In fact, most studies don’t provide any evidence that MSG is truly dangerous. If you want studies to prove that something is dangerous, start looking at the dangers of sugar.
Alright, so what’s the problem with it?
Well, there aren’t really any problems with it. In fact, many scientists claim that it’s absurd that people refuse to eat it. Ken Lee, a professor of food innovation at Ohio State University, even when so far to say, “It’s ridiculous. It’s wacko, it’s weird; it’s not true that MSG has any kind of toxic or causative role in food allergies.”
In other news, do you know what ‘umami’ is? Read up on it here.